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Friday, August 29, 2014

BIRTHING THROUGH THE CROSS



22ND SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 16:21-27
 
Our physical bodies are prone to seek what is pleasurable and avoid pain.     This is reflected in the choices we make in life in our basic needs: good food, beautiful clothing, nice shelter.    But life is more than the pleasure we seek because we are called to something greater than satisfying the needs of our senses.
Because of Peter’s profession that Jesus was the Christ, He was called by Jesus as “the rock” and was given the keys of the Kingdom of heaven.   Peter might have professed that Jesus was the Christ but he never understood the meaning of his confession.  When Jesus explained that his messiahship involves pain and suffering which will lead to his death, Peter rebuked him.  He could not believe that his Christ will suffer such horrible death on the cross. Jesus said “Get behind me, Satan.”  The name “Satan” comes the Greek word ‘satanas” which means a tempter. Before Jesus embarked on his public ministry the devil first tempted him with what we may call as “three shortcuts to glory.”  Jesus called the devil “Satan” precisely because he tempted Jesus to achieve glory without the cross.  When his public ministry was about to end, Jesus started to prepare his disciples by explaining to them his impending death.  Peter tempted him just like the devil not to go to the cross.
We are all masterpieces in becoming! Like a piece of marble we have to endure every blow of the chisel in in the hands of the Master Sculptor.  He chisels away what is not necessary until the masterpiece in us comes into life.  Each blow entails pain but it is needed to bring out the best in us. 
Pain is inevitable to life; pain is a sign of growth.  Our mothers have experienced the most unimaginable physical pain when they gave birth to us.   Pain is the antecedent to the birthing of life.  Since we needed a spiritual rebirth, God like a mother would experience the worst pangs of birth ever through the sufferings of Jesus.  That is the imperative of the cross.  God gave birth to us on the cross that is why as disciples of Jesus, we are all following a naked and suffering Christ. 
What is your cross at the moment?  Even if it seems eternity for some, it is not the end of everything but a channel to something greater than all our sufferings.  Our mothers can tell us the unexplainable joy after the pain of giving birth.  
It is very hard for us to appreciate our crosses in life but they are our way leading us to the fullness of our being.  We are reborn in every moment of our life until we come to the full stature that God has envisioned for us. Like a mother, God is also in pain with us because He is giving birth to us continuously until we are born to eternal life.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

THE CHRIST QUESTION

        



21ST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 16:13-20

       "Who is Jesus to me?" This is the most fundamental question that is asked of every Christian, being a disciple of Jesus during his time and to us in the present time.
        Caesarea Philippi was a highly paganistic territory being dedicated to the god Pan and it was there that Jesus asked the question “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”  When Jesus asked the question, it was not meant to check on the polls or a scientific survey but rather he was concerned whether his message was understood by the people.  The responses were generic, as perceived by the people: as John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.  It means that the Jews were uncertain about the nature of his person, hence the confusion about his true mission.  This led to the question of Jesus which was directed to the disciples themselves: “But who do you say that I am?”  Peter, the spokesperson of the band, said “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The word Christ coming from the Greek word Christos is one of the titles of Jesus which means 'the Anointed One'; it is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Messiah. Following Peter's confession of faith, Jesus proclaimed the supremacy of Peter: “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church.” 
          With the new faces of paganism challenging the world today, the same question is being asked of us: Is Christ still relevant in a world which continues to experience slavery of different forms?  If  He is, what does He offer to a world in desperate need of salvation?  How does the Catholic Church differ from other agencies or religions that offer redemption? 
        Our response to the question of Jesus determines not just our belief to the doctrines taught to us by the Church but our personal relationship to Jesus.  It defines who we are as a person, our dreams and aspirations, our values and character.  It determines the daily choices and decisions we make.  We might acquire many labels in life because of our status quo, education, career and many others but we share a common identity that defines us regardless of colour, race and culture: our being Christians, as followers of Christ.  That is why the pains and suffering of our brothers and sisters being persecuted because of their Christian faith in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon are also our own.    The inhuman atrocities they are experiencing at the moment is wounding the Body of Christ.  

       Who is Christ today?  He is suffering amongst the millions of people who are being driven out of their lands; the hundreds of thousands of people who are massacred and innocent children lying dead in the streets.  We condemn such barbaric acts! We pray that this heinous crime against humanity come to a stop. We pray that the peace of Christ reign in those besieged lands. Amen

Friday, August 15, 2014

HUMILITY: MELTING THE HEART OF GOD

        


 20TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 15:21-28

       Have you ever experienced calling God in your dire need?  Do you recall how you behaved yourself before God during the time when you thought you needed him the most?  The Canaanite woman in the gospel this Sunday shows us how we can melt the heart of a God and win his favour. 
        The woman was from Canaan; in other words she was a foreigner for the Jews.  When Jesus was passing by that pagan territory the woman must have heard about him and shouted “Lord, Son of David, have pity on me; my daughter is tormented by a devil.”  The woman acknowledged Jesus as a Jew by referring to him as the Son of David.   It was very unusual of Jesus who did not even say a word in response to the woman.  Because the woman was becoming an annoyance, the disciples pleaded with Jesus to give in to her request but what they got was a seemingly cold response: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."  Now the woman bowing low before Jesus pleaded “Lord, help me.”  But Jesus' next response was almost contemptuous and intolerant: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.”  It is hard to believe that those words came from the very mouth of Jesus.  Jesus may have sounded arrogant, discriminatory and dehumanizing when he likened the woman to a little dog.  But just like any other mother the woman could take in anything even to the point of being humiliated in public just to save her daughter.  In all her humility, she not only accepted her being like a dog before Jesus and said “I am just asking for scraps that fall from the master’s table.”
          For three times, the responses of Jesus to the plea of the woman might sound very negative and almost demeaning!  But in those humbling moments, Jesus was giving the woman opportunities to shine.  The more she was humiliated, the more she humbled herself.  Rising above her limited self she won the very difficult argument with flying colours not through her intellectual prowess but through her humility.  Like all our mothers, she was willing to accept any humiliation for the sake of her daughter.  It was the greatness of a mother’s heart that persevered throughout the difficult test of faith.
         Aren’t we all beggars pleading for scraps that may fall from God's table?  Are we ready to accept humiliation even to the point of breaking away from our comfort zones?   If we are in desperate need like the woman, we let go of our pride and storm heaven with humility until the heart of God melts to give us his mercy.
    To save the person we love most, we will do everything even to the point of giving up something we hold very dear.  That’s what Jesus did when he gave up his life for us so that we may eat not just the scraps that fall from the table but that we may eat to our heart’s content in the table as God's children.  This invitation to dine in the heavenly banquet is not just for the Jews, for Christians but for all peoples because salvation is for all who trust.  It takes a humble heart to melt the heart of God.

Friday, August 8, 2014

SALVATION FROM THE EYE OF THE STORM

19TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 14:22-33

        In November 8, 2013 the Philippines was ravaged by Haiyan which was the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in human history.  The devastation was massive: six thousand died and over ten million people lost their homes and properties.  What could have been the feeling of those people who were in the midst of such horrendous situation?  And more importantly, why did God let it happen just like the many natural disasters that are happening in the world.  The gospel this Sunday is a microcosm of the storms that continue to beset our lives as individuals and as a people.
        Jesus had just performed the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fish and he asked his disciples to go to the other side of the lake while he stayed on to be with his Father in prayer.  In crossing the lake, the disciples had been battling the big waves for hours and suddenly, around three in the morning, Jesus appeared to them walking on the water.  The disciples, exhausted with fear of the strong winds and waves, were even more terrified to see such a strange thing which they thought of as a ghost.  Jesus assured them at once: "Take heart, it is I (I AM), do not be afraid."  Yet after saying this, the storm still continued.  Peter in his usual impulsive character asked that he, too might walk on the water.  When Jesus said "Come", Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water.   Looking at the big waves his fear got hold of him and he began to sink and shouted "Lord, save me."  Jesus immediately grasped Peter's hand with the penetrating question "Why did you doubt?"  When they got into the boat, the storm ceased and the disciples worshipped Jesus and professed their faith "Truly you are the Son of God."
        The storm for us in the story is not just the physical cyclone that brings devastation to lives and properties, but the many challenges of discomfort and life's crises that threaten and shake the core of our being.  In the midst of these baffling situations, we ask the perennial questions "Why did God let his happen?"  "Where is God in this storm?"  Jesus could have calmed the storm outright when showed himself to the disciples and yet the strong winds and waves continued to tossed them even in his presence.  Why?  Because it is to bring out the best of Peter and us!  Like Peter, we, too can do the impossible if only we believe.  And like Peter, we, too will sink in the abyss of our crises if we start our ego-tripping and turn our gaze away from Jesus.  Redemption in the Christian context is always a rising from death to new life and from utter humiliation to glorification.  In his near-death experience, Peter realised he could not save himself and in humility asked for Jesus' help.  This gospel is a confronting story to people who are experiencing storms in different forms.  No matter how massive the devastation these storms bring to us, at the end, with the help of God we always rise from the ashes like the Phoenix, to become renewed, stronger and better persons.  This is the wonder of the resilience of the human spirit.
        This story also confronts those who might be enjoying their huge success in life like Peter's "walking on the water".  This self-sufficiency that hinges on personal triumphs without God is the deification of the ego which is embraced by many in their proclamation of independence from God. They might enjoy for a bit of time like Peter did but human nature cannot sustain and redeem itself no matter how intelligent it is.
        When we are either sinking or walking on the water, it is not about us; it is about God who makes all things possible!

       
EYE OF THE STORM

I was in the midst of a great storm
My eyes were blinded by the heavy rains
As bitter tears rolled down my dirty face
Angry lightning sliced through the dark sky
Anguish pierced my shivering spirit through
The violent gusts of wind in its ravaging kiss
My sunken body beaten up by mundane delights
The lahar cascading all rubble and rubbish
My gasping heart oozing the black mud of sin
Furious thunder raging through the heavens
And passions devouring every fiber of my being
But when I looked out through the window of my soul
I saw you there in the eye of the storm, comforting me!

From the book EMPTIFUL by Fr. Vlad

Saturday, August 2, 2014

EUCHARISTIC CHALLENGES


18TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME - A
Matthew 14:13-21

            There are not much changes in the situation of humanity since the time of Jesus in terms of  basic human needs.  We might have experienced in our century the rapid development of technology, science, medicine and other disciplines yet we cling to some old habits and traditions that still continue to shape our ethos, value system and beliefs.  One of these is the food that we eat.  The food on our tables is part of our heritage which has been handed down to us from one generation to the next.  Example:  The few dishes that I am able to cook are actually the ones I learned from my mother and sisters which I observed in the kitchen since I was a little boy.  Some families have recipes whose ingredients are only known to the members.  There is so much history and stories hidden in the food on our plates which define our culture and tradition as a family, ethnic group and even as a country.  Therefore food is not just about the nourishment of our bodies, it is also nourishment of our spirit.  The Eucharist is such food to us!
        God through the prophet Isaiah in the First Reading reminds us of the invitation to his banquet: "Come, receive grain and eat! Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk."  As the food is our binding force with one another, the food offered by God is the one that binds us with each other and with God: "Who can separate us from the love of God? "..... no other creature can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ Our Lord."
        There is so much imbalance in the distribution of world's resources today because although there is plenty for everybody's need but there is not much for everybody's greed.  Everyday hundreds of thousands of peoples are dying because of hunger yet at the same time hundreds and thousands also are living in excessive luxuries.  The miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes is confronting this rather extreme situation and challenges us and the world as it unfolds its radical meaning in the present time.
        

        1) From Story to Memorial. What a privilege that our personal stories, insignificant they may be,  give colour and meaning to the Gospel that we just proclaimed because our lives are grafted into the story of God and his people.  That is why all that happened to us have been recorded in the memory of God and at the same time have become part of the history of God's people.  When Jesus said, "Do this in memorial of me" he commands that the Eucharist should perpetuate every fibre of human history and that we as his disciples re-live that salvific event as active participants.

        2) From Selfishness to Solidarity.  Yes we are busy with our personal concerns, chasing dreams, building careers, securing our future but let's us not forget that we are part of a larger story which embraces the dreams, aspirations, hopes, anguish and pains of other people in the past, in the present and in the future.  We may not have the capacity to effect change  in the bigger spectrum of society but if we are able to make a difference in the life of just one person then we have changed the whole world for the better.

        3) From Communion to Mission.  It is not enough to be aware of the needs of others without doing anything about it.  After feeding their souls through his teaching, Jesus was aware of their physical need so he asked his disciples to give them food which became a problematic for them. The solution was rather a paradox: poverty that enriches! This is the lesson of the multiplication of the loaves: if we are able to share to others who have less in life in spite of our scarcity, the miracle of the loaves and fish continue to explode in our world that knows only to hoard for selfish securities.  When people learn to share their resources everybody experiences abundance as seen in the twelve baskets of leftovers.
        

        When we are able to live out these eucharistic challenges, then we become part of the miracle... we become truly the Eucharist we celebrate!